Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: Paulo's of Georgetown

Paulo's and I have a love/hate relationship.  I have been there and loved it, while other times the food has been sub-par.  This past trip was one of the former experiences, and I think most of my dinning mates would agree.

Instead of your typical olive oil and Italian bread on the table, Paulo's provides everything-breadsticks and a dip that is like a combination of an olive tapenade and hummus.  It sounds weird, but it is so good! I really could just take a jar of this dip home and put it on my sandwiches. But who comes to a restaurant just for their free bread?....oh right, I've done that before.

On to the main course, Paulo's is famous for their homemade pastas and pizzas.  The pizza pictured at the top of this post is their brunch pizza, which is topped with tomatoes, pancetta, cheese, and two sunny side up eggs.  Although this may not sound appetizing, every friend that has ever ordered it has raved about it.  I had the pizza pictured directly above, which had a red onion, rosemary pesto, goat cheese, oven roasted tomatoes, and pistachios.  This was really one of the best pizza combination I've ever had! Of course, this may be swayed because I my recent obsession with goat cheese, but I would highly recommend this pizza.

My disappointments in the past have been with their "homemade" pastas, which sometimes taste like old olive oil.  I know, I know, I'm being a bit picky, but when I eat my gnocchi I want it to taste like a fluffy potato pillow and not the oil used to keep it together! Still, although this place has got some great happy hour and brunch specials, the sometimes poor quality of food has left me rating Paulo's as only three stars.

Rating (out of *****): ***
Price (out of $$$):  $+
Address: 1303 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: Vapiano


Has this ever happened to you? You go out to dinner with a couple friends (or more than 4), have an awesome time with each other, only to have the evening slightly ruined with a check-splitting fiasco?  I know I have! 

Well say "never again!" because a great concept for a restaurant/bar has come to DC, Vapiano.  I have to say that this is one of the most ingenious bars in the city. When you walk in you are handed your own debit card of sorts. They have a dining hall type ordering system.  How it works is you order your own food, drinks, desserts, etc, yourself and they place your order on your card.  At then end of the evening, you simply pay for what is on your card at the door. Thus, no more check splitting! So great.

Last night, a few friends and I wanted to find a place outside to hang out and enjoy the beautiful spring weather.  After roaming numerous places that were too packed in Dupont Circle, we finally ended up at Vapiano and had a great time. They have a rather large outdoor seating area, as well as plenty of space inside.  A few of us also bought some of their mini desserts, and man were they great! The desserts were small enough to feel like you had something sweet but not so small to be left wishing there was more. I especially liked my strawberries and vanilla mascarpone cheese dessert, but the others were just as tasty.  

Vapiano's main menu features an array of pasta dishes, pizzas, and panini sandwiches.  Although the prices are low and you are ordering your food at the counter, don't think for one second that the food quality is poor. They use great ingredients and make your food right in front of you.  So if you want a cool bar/restaurant to chill at without some of the hype of other places, definitely check out Vapiano.

Rating (out of *****): ****
Price (out of $$$):  $ 
Address:2 Locations: Dupont - 18th & M, Chinatown - H & 7th 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Make your own pizza

I love pizza...but who doesn't? But buying quality pizza from many local eateries can really break the bank.  So what's a Graduate Gourmet to do? Make your own of course!  This has been made easier with Trader Joes' refrigerated pizza dough.  Simply let the dough sit at room temperature for 20 minutes while you chop any veggies/meats for your pizza, roll the dough out, and then bake!  Plus, you save some serious "dough" while using leftover veggies/meats from your fridge.  Below is what I did with what was in my fridge, but feel free to make it your own!

Veggie Whole Wheat Pizza
1 bag Trader Joes' refrigerated pizza dough (or other brand)
1 t cornmeal (optional)
3 T flour (for rolling out dough)
1/2 jar of favorite tomato sauce
1-1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (as needed to cover pizza)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 t olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 roasted red pepper, chopped
6 medium olives, sliced
1/4 ricotta cheese (or as needed)
Italian seasoning, salt & pepper (to taste)

  • Set dough on the counter from the fridge for at least 20 minutes and pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • While dough is coming to room temperature, put olive oil and garlic in large skillet on medium-high heat. When the garlic becomes fragrant (1-2 minutes), add mushrooms.  Saute, stirring occasionally until mushrooms begin to brown (~3-4 min).  Add salt & pepper to taste and take the mushrooms off the heat to cool a bit.  Cut the rest of the veggies for toppings.
  • When dough is ready, spread some flour on a clean surface and roll the dough out until it is approximately 1/8 inch in thickness.*
  • Before placing your rolled out dough on a non-stick baking sheet, put the sheet in the oven to get hot. When you are ready to bake, take the pan out of the oven, sprinkle on some cornmeal, place the dough on the cornmeal, and gently push the cornmeal into the dough.  This will give you a crunchier crust on the bottom.
  • Top the dough with the amount of sauce you prefer.
  • Spread out your veggies, cover with mozzarella cheese, and dollop ricotta cheese on top.  If you want a bit of extra flavor, sprinkle some Italian seasoning and pepper on top.
  • The instructions for the dough say to bake for 10 minutes, but mine took more like 20 to get it as crisp as I like. 
  • Once it is cooked to your preference, let it sit for one minute, cut, and enjoy!

* Note: Don't have a rolling pin? Neither do I! I used a mixture of pushing the dough into a circle and a large glass cup, which works just as well as the pin. Plus, no worries if you can't get it into an exact circle. It's about how it tastes, not how it looks!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lobster Food Truck

So I had a crazy Selection Sunday yesterday, which meant ZERO time to make lunch like I had planned...very un-Graduate-Gourmet of me.....So I signed on to my handy Food Truck Locator Website and saw that none other than the Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck was in my area.  Well of course, I had to give this infamous truck a try! So I headed with a friend to Franklin Square for some lobster rolls.

When we arrived at the truck, the line was so long I almost considered heading to the Korean BBQ Taco truck around the corner instead (which I will definitely visit in the near future).  I would say there were probably 15-20 people in line at 12:45 pm and it was not the warmest day out... That shows the dedication of this truck's followers!

Now, I know this post should be all about the food, but wow is this truck's ordering system efficient! With most food trucks you order, pay, and receive your food from one window.  With this truck, you order and pay at the first window, then move down to the second for your food, then grab a fountain drink for yourself at the end...PLUS, they take credit cards!  This is a huge plus for me because I like to track my spending by watching my bank account daily instead of saving receipts or using cash. 

Ok, my weird obsession with efficiency aside, one down side to this truck would have to be the price.  It's $15 for just the lobster roll, and an additional $3 for chips and a drink.  However, you get A LOT of lobster on this roll! I mean, just look at the two rolls below!

This first roll (above) is the Maine-style lobster roll and has a mayo based sauce...

While the second roll (above) is the Connecticut-style roll and has a butter based sauce. **Side note, obviously I am not a pig and did not ordered two rolls for myself...this second one was my friends, but you knew that...right?**

Of the two rolls, it is hard to decide which one I liked better.  When I think of a lobster roll, my head simply screams that it must be creamy like the Maine-style roll.  However, the Connecticut-style roll had a nice seasoning in the butter sauce, which really made me re-think my choice of the traditional lobster roll. Either way, large chunks of lobster (sometimes even the whole claw!) encased within a buttery soft roll have your mouth telling your brain to forget just how much you paid.

My eating companion also purchased one of the truck's huge whoopie pie, but the flavor (or lack of flavor) left much to be desired. So if you head to this gourmet lobster truck, stick with the crustacean and away from the pastry.  

Still, the moral of this post is YOU MUST VISIT THIS TRUCK!!  It definitely lives up to the hype....but maybe only on special occasions so you don't break the bank.

Friday, March 11, 2011

DC Food Truck Locator!

I ran across the most awesome website this week....a DC Food Truck tracker that tells you in REAL TIME where the trucks are. Oh my goodness, so cool! Now I will definitely be able to eat at several food trucks in the city!  The site is Check it out the next time you want to find a local eatery on wheels!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tortilla Chips

Don't have tortilla chips for your chicken tortilla soup?  Make your own!  To make one serving, all you need is one tortilla (wheat, flour, or corn), some Olive Oil PAM, and salt (I prefer sea salt, but whatever is in your cabinet is fine).  Feel free to spice up your homemade chips with lime juice (before baking) or sprinkling some chili powder on top.

Serve these homemade munchies with your favorite soup or dip, or simply eat them by themselves! I love making my own chips because anytime I buy a bag of tortilla chips they usually go stale before I can eat them all.  This way, I have the proper quantity and they taste great!

Here's what you do:
1.) Gather your ingredients and preheat your toaster oven to 375 degrees (you can use your big oven as well).

2.) Cut the tortilla in half.

3.) Take those two halves and put them on top of each other, then cut the tortilla halves into four pieces.

4.) Spread out the tortilla chips and spray both sides with PAM.  Sprinkle with salt and put them on a cookie sheet. Side note- I just lay the slices directly on the rack in my toaster oven since I do not have a tiny baking sheet.

5.) Bake for 10-15 minutes (or until cooked to your desired brown-ness), flipping after 5 minutes. IMPORTANT: Do not walk far away from your chips as they burn very quickly!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Bored with regular chicken soup? Spice up your chicken-stock-making skills by cooking different chicken soup creations.  This week, I tried my hand at chicken tortilla soup.  All of the measurements are a bit of an estimate as I changed the seasoning based on how it tasted while I made feel free to adjust the spice to your liking as well!

I used leeks in this recipe, which is one of my favorite veggies to cook with while making soups. (I promise I'll post on how to properly cut and clean this awesome veggie in the near future...) Leeks are in the same family as an onion, have a lighter taste, but add LOADS of flavor to soup recipes.  If you do not have any leeks on hand, you can replace the it with an onion.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 leek, sliced long-ways in half, then cut into small moons
1 carrot (or a handful of shredded carrots), chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1.5-2 Cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 can tomatoes with chilies (Rotel is good, but I used Trader Joe's Fire Roasted tomatoes with green chilies)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn
2 Cup Chicken Stock (I only had 1 cup on hand, but added 1 cup of water, and it turned out great!)
1-2 T cumin (adjust to your desired heat)
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped

  • Add olive oil to medium soup pot on medium-high heat.  Add chopped garlic and cook until fragrant. 
  • Add veggies to the pot as you chop them. I usually add the more fibrous veggies first (celery, carrots) then anything thinner (in this case, the leeks).  Season with salt & pepper and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes.
  • Once veggies are softened, add the shredded chicken, cans of tomatoes, can of corn, stock/water, and cumin. Do not drain the canned veggies!! This will help add liquid to your soup.
  • Simmer on medium-high heat until the soup is warmed through. 
  • Before you are ready to eat the soup, stir in the chopped cilantro.  This way the herb stays nice and fresh tasting.  For a nice presentation, you can even sprinkle the cilantro on top of each bowl.
  • Top with your favorite toppings.  I used a few slices of avocado, but other great options are tortilla chips, sour cream, or cheese.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: Sweet Bites Cupcake Truck

With the gourmet food truck craze taking over DC (as well as the weather warming up!) I've decided to visit as many of these trucks as I possibly can.  And thus begins my new "series" of tasting various trucks around the city.

A few weeks ago I was walking by McPearson Square and noticed a pink and white truck parked on I was Sweet Bites, the Cupcake and other fabulous baked goods truck.  This was a particularly cold and windy day, but once I spot a cupcake-eating-opportunity, I cannot resist.  DC has seen it's fair share of cupcakeries popping up around the city, but a cupcake AND gourmet food truck? Be silent my heart.... 

To preface this entry, I have to say that I am very picky about my cupcakes.  I actually do not like Georgetown Cupcake (gasp!) and prefer Baked and Wired.  So when I stepped up to the truck, I had my critique face on and was ready to judge.

On this day, I thought their sophisticated Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache cupcake with a dollop of vanilla buttercream on top sounded tasty.  The cake is made with dark chocolate (which I cannot resist!). However, being a baker myself, I know that it is difficult to cook with dark chocolate.  The moisture level is much lower with dark chocolate versus a milk chocolate, so it is difficult to make a moist cake.  I have to say that their attempt at keeping the cake moist with the ganache topping fell just shy.  HOWEVER....the vanilla butter-cream icing on top was BRILLIANT. It helped to add moisture that was missing from the cake to each bite.

Not to be one to judge a restaurant by it's first tasting, I went back last week and obtained the Chocolate Coconut Cupcake (pictured below).

This cake held redemptive powers for Sweet Bites.  As I bit into the cupcake, I found it to be more moist than the bittersweet chocolate cupcake.  Their butter-cream icing is silky smooth and not too thick. I still think Baked & Wired is my favorite bakery in DC, but that does not mean I won't be heading to McPhearson Square today because it is again what I have now coined "Cupcake Truck Thursday"...What can I say, I'm a sucker for cupcakes.

If you check out Sweet Bites' website, you can see exactly where the truck will be that day. Or, you can  follow their tweets on Twitter. Most food trucks now tweet where they are located to let people know when they open. I do not have a Twitter account, but most of these trucks also post on Facebook, which makes me a happy camper!  So check out Sweet Bites' site to see when they are coming to a square near you.